Student to represent WHHS at UPenn debate tournament
Student to represent WHHS at UPenn debate tournament
Posted on 01/23/2015
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WEST HAVEN, Jan. 12, 2015 — It was only about a year ago that West Haven High School student Tatiana Gay found herself at her first debate team tournament, vying against students from other states and even another country in a special competition. Brand new to the WHHS Urban Debate League team, she was a last-minute replacement for another member who couldn’t attend.

“I remember asking kids on other schools’ teams how long they’ve been debating, and some said since seventh grade. When they asked me how long I’d been doing this, I told them, ‘Oh, about a couple hours,’” she recalled. “I did so bad at the tournament, they didn’t even want to tell me what place I came in. I was dead last, but people said, ‘You survived though.”

Gay did more than just “survive” at subsequent local tournaments against area high-schoolers—she stole the show. The determined and ambitious WHHS senior has become a top-ranked debater in the Yale University-run New Haven Urban Debate League, coming in first place in multiple tournaments this year, and has secured a spot at the Liberty Bell Classic, a parliamentary debate invitational at the University of Pennsylvania Feb. 13-15. The league is composed of debate teams from area schools.

She is the only WHHS student who qualified for the UPenn event, and will attend with students from New Haven-area schools.

“I’m surprised at how far I’ve come. I was in last place last year. But that just gave me motivation for this year. I love doing debate,” Gay said.

She seemed to have a knack for it even when she was a youngster. Her mom has told Gay she would debate everything as a little kid.

“When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say a lawyer. They were like, ‘Perfect!’” she quipped.

Gay came onto the WHHS Urban Debate League team as a junior and unsure of tournament structure or exactly how it all worked. She soon learned that students compete in categories based on experience—novice and varsity—and either solo or on a team of two to three people. The WHHS team meets weekly with a Yale University student-coach to practice public speaking and tournament strategies and debate general topics that teams receive before tournaments.

On competition days, students learn the specific subject they will be debating, their partner for the team division, and the side they will represent, and have about 15 minutes to prepare. Judges critique debaters after the presentations on the amount of time used for arguments, confidence, eye contact, and even hand movements.

“They’re all just good skills to have. It all comes much easier now to me,” said Gay, who also has practice from speaking at her church.

Another thing that’s helped her? The WHHS Advanced Placement (college-level) Government and Politics class she took junior year, given its coverage of amendments and rights, which are popular debate topics.  This year’s Urban Debate League subjects have included universal healthcare, vaccinations, hate crime punishments, student discipline in public schools and banning cigarettes.

At a competition this October, Gay was named the top varsity speaker and came in fifth place in the category of varsity teams. At a special December tournament that included around 20 teams composed of approximately 40 students, she and her partner for the day, a student at New Haven’s Sound School, debated before a crowd of around 120 people and came in first place, each earning a $500 scholarship and a trophy.

Though she is busy preparing for the UPenn invitational and will face off against area students in additional local tournaments throughout the rest of the year, Gay has another major task to cross off her senior year to-do list: sorting through acceptance letters from nine colleges. She’s planning on majoring in forensic science, but hopes to still be a part of a debate team in college—even if she has to start one on her own.

WHHS history teacher and debate team adviser Mark Consorte called Gay’s progress on the debate team “remarkable.”

“She has become very sharp, aggressive and convincing. She is a great teammate as well; working with a partner, she is able to quickly brainstorm thoughtful responses and build arguments and strategy,” he said. “Tatiana has shown great leadership too, helping the younger members of our debate team become better. We’re very proud of her.”


Contact: Communications Director Susan Misur, 203-937-4300 X7114; susan.misur@whschools.org